27 Pol­lies spy and we pay

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - JOHN ROLFE

VOT­ERS are pay­ing more than $1 mil­lion so po­lit­i­cal par­ties can spy on them.

A Sun­day Her­ald Sun in­ves­ti­ga­tion has re­vealed fed­eral La­bor and Coali­tion politi­cians have made hun­dreds of “soft­ware re­im­burse­ment” claims since the last fed­eral elec­tion.

The soft­ware en­ables vot­ers’ pri­vate de­tails to be cross­matched to create a list of “pe­rus­able” peo­ple to tar­get dur­ing elec­tion cam­paigns.

The data in­cludes pri­vate elec­toral roll de­tails, Face­book pro­files and land­line phone num­bers, as well as mo­bile num­bers and email ad­dresses gath­ered from pe­ti­tions.

“Not only is this hap­pen­ing, you are pay­ing for it,” a for­mer La­bor front­bencher said.

At the 2016 fed­eral elec­tion, the ALP’s sys­tem iden­ti­fied two mil­lion peo­ple who were then “mi­cro-tar­geted”.

An anal­y­sis of La­bor MPs and se­na­tors found they claimed $356,000 for soft­ware in the two years to June 2018. The Coali­tion bill was $322,000.

La­bor’s soft­ware provider is called Cam­paign Cen­tral and cross­matches elec­toral roll, so­cial me­dia data and home­phone de­tails so swing­ing vot­ers in mar­ginal seats can be tar­geted with “robo” calls which de­liver scripted party mes­sages over the phone. Cam­paign Cen­tral didn’t start as a tool of “per­sua­sion”, a for­mer top party of­fi­cial said, but that’s what it was be­com­ing.

The Coali­tion uses Para­keelia, which de­scribes it­self as a “database man­age­ment and mar­ket re­search” com­pany.

The Vic­to­rian branch of the Lib­eral Party has re­cently be­gun pay­ing for the ser­vices of US com­pany i360, which says it uses ad­vanced al­go­rithms to “gen­er­ate the most ac­cu­rate, in­di­vid­ual-level pre­dic­tions” avail­able.

SA fed­eral MP Re­bekha Sharkie of the Cen­tre Al­liance has called for an in­quiry into ma­jor par­ties’ data-min­ing af­ter i360 was used against her in the re­cent Mayo by-elec­tion.

Her spokes­woman said Ms Sharkie be­lieved i360 was be­hind the Lib­er­als rais­ing “ran­dom” is­sues dur­ing the cam­paign, such as asy­lum seek­ers. “Peo­ple don’t like be­ing spied on,” her spokes­woman said.

Ex­perts say po­lit­i­cal par­ties should lose their ex­emp­tion from pri­vacy and spam­ming laws.

Univer­sity of Syd­ney pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ol­ogy Ari­adne Vromen said af­ter the wake of the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal in the US, Aus­tralian po­lit­i­cal par­ties and ac­tivists “all need to think about whether they are re­spect­ing the dig­i­tal pri­vacy of the peo­ple they are tar­get­ing”. Face­book and i360 did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

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